The Lazy Lemon Sun Ch. 04byRehnquist©
INTRODUCTION: Here it is, the final part.
I hope you've all enjoyed the ride. There are some questions still unanswered with a few of the characters, of course, but I've got to leave something for future stories, right?
Please take the time to comment. I'm really curious to see how you all feel about how this turns out.
They were both at my apartment this time. We were sitting on the floor eating grilled cheese with bacon, tomato, and spinach and sipping tomato soup from big mugs. Grilled cheese and tomato soup, it was my favorite meal from childhood kicked up a slight notch. But I couldn't muster up a warm cozy feeling as I ate and listened to Whitney and Rebecca think out loud as if I weren't even present.
"That really does change things," Whitney said, her voice soft. "I mean, I can really kinda see it from her point of view."
"Assuming you believe her," Rebecca snapped.
"But it all makes sense, right? I mean, if she didn't really love him, she could've left, too."
"Or keep on with that boyfriend she latched onto while just toning it down a bit."
"But he said they were happier at the end than at the beginning. And that the look on her face when he brought up having children, how do you explain that?"
"Fuck, I don't know," Rebecca said. "Biological clock or something."
"I don't think so. Her answer is the easiest and it makes the most sense. That's when she realized for sure that he wasn't gonna be ditching out. That's when the arrangement finally clicked into a true marriage."
"Yeah, but it was still based on lies. All of it. And she was part of them. Think about it, if she really thought he was in the know, she's gonna just make snide comments now and then. Never once really bring it up and out in the open?"
"There is that," Whitney agreed. "It is a bit farfetched. I mean, I can see it coming out real easily in a fight or something. That ever happen, Mark?"
"Huh?" I said, listening but not really hearing them.
"You two ever have fights? Yell at each other and throw shit in each other's face?"
I shrugged. "Sure. Doesn't everyone?"
"And she never threw this in your face? The arrangement?"
"Yeah," I said, then, "no. I guess so. I mean, they'd be the same snide comments, just yelled instead of joked about. You know. 'I don't know why I ever agreed to marry you,' shit like that."
"See?" Whitney said. "I can see it playing out like that, can't you? Especially if she thought he was in the know the whole time."
"Bullshit," Rebecca adroitly countered.
"So what d'ya think?" Whitney asked me.
"I don't know. I think I believe her, but I'm not sure it makes a difference."
"So you believe her?" Rebecca asked, astounded at my apparent naivete.
"Yeah, I do. You weren't there, Bec. She was a total wreck. I can't see her being that good an actress."
"Fooled you all those years you were together, though."
"She wasn't acting then. She was just being Sandy; making the best out of a bad situation at first, then genuinely just trying to make the best out of . . . well, out of our marriage. Trying to keep it together. So yeah, I believe her. It all fits."
"Yeah, but-- "
"You didn't see her face the few times she talked about our folks," I cut in. "It wasn't even anger yet. She was still trying to wrap her head around it, like she couldn't believe they'd never told me."
Rebecca snorted, I pushed my plate aside, and Whitney put her hand atop mine. "I think you need to see her again. To talk this through. The divorce is still there if you want it."
"And you should take it," Rebecca insisted.
"But," Whitney continued, looking over at Rebecca in annoyance, "you don't want to look back ten years from now and wonder what if. What if she'd been serious? What if your dream girl really was in love with you and wanted to have your babies and grow old and die with you? What if-- "
"What if she fucks around on you again and again and you just sit back and take it," Rebecca interjected. "What if you continue playing along with their games--all of them--and they win. They all get what they want. Daddy Truelson gets the White House and your daddy gets the Majority Leader position. What do you get, Mark?"
I stood and left them sitting there, almost running to my bedroom and shutting the door behind me. I needed to get away and think this through.
I laid on my bed and pondered. Whitney made solid points. We were all three of us lawyers, and we intuitively knew how we all thought. Law school does that to you; it fucks up otherwise normal thought processes. Still, they'd hammered it into our heads in criminal law: Actions without the requisite intent are mere actions. If you're on a roof and you trip and bump a brick and it falls and kills someone, it's not murder. It's an accident. If you're on the same roof, you see people walking below, and you push off the brick, it's at least voluntary manslaughter, and more likely second degree murder. You see someone you know and intentionally push the brick at them, it's first degree murder. All three scenarios you caused the brick to fall and kill someone, but the outcomes all differ based on what you intended to do.
But Rebecca was right, too. Wilful blindness is not a defense. If you intentionally push that brick not knowing whether anyone's on the street below, it's still gonna fall into the second category, voluntary manslaughter at least.
So I guess the issue was whether Whitney wilfully blinded herself. Did she intuitively sense my ignorance? Should she have said something? Would I have played it any differently in her shoes? The last one was particularly difficult because I'd have to put myself in the place of someone as incredibly popular being foisted upon me.
There was a soft knock at the door. "Can I come in?" Rebecca said, opening the door and poking her head through.
I looked at her, and she hesitated before stepping in and closing the door behind her. She walked to the bed and sat down beside me, placing her hand on my thigh.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I want her to be a bitch because you didn't deserve any of this, y'know?"
"You don't need to-- "
"Yeah, I do. I told you that first night I don't make it a habit to sleep with married men, and here I've let myself begin falling for one. And that's not fair to you. Especially now."
I sat up and leaned against the wall, looking at her.
"Why haven't you ever been married?"
She gave a sad smile. "I'm not the marrying type, Mark. Believe me when I tell you, if you're thinking of blowing her off just to take up with me, we'll never get married."
She got a faraway look, her eyes staring at me but not seeing. "We all have our histories. Our burdens. Our quirks and all that other crap. Some of us can get past it all, some can't. I don't think I can. I'd like to tell you that maybe you're the one that could help me get past it, but I don't really know, and I'd be leading you along if I said otherwise."
I nodded, then covered her hand with mine. I didn't really know what to say.
"I guess what I'm saying here is you need to not think about this right now. Definitely not about us, but also not about what Sandy said. I think you need to think about what you want first. You, Mark. Not Sandy and not your parents and not anyone else but you. You need to do something for you for a change. And once you know what you want to do, then you need to talk to Sandy again and maybe figure out if she's part of that plan."
I thought it over. She was right. It came back to what they'd both said before: Time to be proactive, take control of my own damned life. I thought I'd been in control all along, but I hadn't been. Now I needed to firmly be in control and get what I wanted out of life.
"We'll still see each other, right?"
She smiled and said, "You know we will."
I leaned over and kissed her. It was more than a brotherly peck, but less than full blown romance. It was nice, and it melted her against my chest. Melted her with what I sensed was resignation that it would be our last kiss together for some time, if not forever.
I rested my cheek atop her thick brown hair and stroked her shoulder, enjoying the moment free of the thoughts that had been bombarding me all night.
It felt nice, and I wondered if I'd ever feel this way again.
* * * * *
Just when I thought I had enough shit to deal with in my topsy turvy world, the door of The Hitching Rail opened at quarter to eleven the next morning and my parents strode in with looks of anger and determination.
"Hey, Mom and Dad," I called out cheerily, then turned to my burly boss beside me. "Ferlin, meet my folks. Senator and Missus Roberts. Mom, Dad, this is my boss, Ferlin."
"Nice ta meetcha," Ferlin grumbled, not the least impressed. He turned and rumbled back toward the kitchen.
"He's not your goddamned boss," Dad hissed. "Jim Parker's your boss."
"What are you doing, Mark?" Mom said.
"Working," I said. "I'm a bartender now."
"What kind of silly goddamned game is this?" Dad pressed. "You just quit with no notice, then you up and leave Sandy and just disappear and come to . . . to . . . to this backwater hicksville. What the hell's going through your head?"
"Cut the shit, Dad. You know exactly why I'm here. You think it's just a coincidence I'm in the same goddamned town as Clarice Talbott? You think I just picked this little old town out of thin air?"
Dad's jaw dropped and Mom gasped, her eyes like great big saucers.
"You didn't know she was here?" I said, smiling. "Her and your son? The brother you never told me about?"
They looked at each other, then at me. Then Dad slumped and Mom leaned against the bar for support.
"What've you done?" Dad said.
"Tried to find the truth," I shot back. "For once in my goddamned life, I tried to find the truth about all of you. And don't tell me you didn't know she was here. Someone met with her and scared her. She's too goddamned afraid to even look at me."
"Pat Truelson's people found you," he said, his mind whirling behind his dropping eyes. "We had people making discreet inquiries, but it was his people that found you. He didn't tell me how."
"Please tell me you didn't confront her," Mom said, sitting and looking at me anxiously.
"Why? Afraid I'd rain all over your parade?"
"It's not what you think, Mark," Dad said, his voice sadder than I'd ever heard him. He got a haunted look and mumbled, "Dear God, please not again."
I looked from one to the other then back again. Here we go again, I thought. This is way worse than just having a brother I never knew about.
Then my anger returned, and I was giddy at their sudden misery. "What do you give a fuck what I think? After what you did to me, to my life, you think I really give two shits about what-- "
"How dare you talk to us like that," Dad said, slamming his palm down on the bar top. "I don't know what the hell's going on here, but I will not tolerate-- "
"You'll tolerate whatever the hell I give you," I said. "Just like I tolerated you two selling me out for your own fucking ends."
"What are you talking about, honey?" Mom said, her eyes narrowing as she tried to gauge how much I knew.
"You know damned well what I'm talking about, Mommy dearest. My marriage. How you and Dad and Pat and Debra all arranged it so you could get Pat Truelson a bump right around election time. I don't know what you got out of it exactly, but I'm sure the favor's been repaid in spades."
"What're you talking about?" Dad said, but my knowledge was too much for him to put on a solid face when he asked it.
"Cut it. The weekend at the Governor's Mansion I overheard all of you. You and the Truelsons all chatting away downstairs about how you convinced Sandy to marry me and stay married for just a few years, but you kept the wool pulled over my eyes and just encouraged me to follow my dreams. I heard it all, Dad. Even the both of you laughing at how goddamned gullible your own son was in the whole mess."
His face fidgeted, but Mom was indignant. "What's the difference why we set it up or how we set it up? We set it up, Mark. We gave you your dream come true. You tell us you weren't ecstatic the whole time? Go ahead, you tell us what we did that was-- "
"You set me up for a marriage she was free to leave at anytime after a year or two. You told her that, didn't you?"
"Who cares what we told her," she shot back, not backing down a bit. "She didn't leave, did she? You're still together, right? Who cares how it got started? What's important is that you're married to the girl of your dreams and you were happy as a pig in a poke."
"It matters, Mom. Especially now that I know. Now it matters more than ever."
"Why? Why should it matter now that you know. She still wants to stay married. Debra told us so, told us she didn't want a divorce. She wants to stay married to you forever."
"I'll tell you why it matters," I said, remembering back to my conversation with Whitney under the crisp, starry skies out front. "It matters because now I question everything about my marriage. My memories are tainted now. You look back to when you two first met and you remember the excitement of that time, right?" Dad gave a slight nod, but Mom only grimaced. "Well I don't look back on it like that anymore. I look back to when Sandy and I started dating and I only see myself getting played for a fool. Every second we were together back then that I thought she was happy and in love with me? Now I know she was shaking her head and mocking me behind my back. How's that for love, Mom? Wanna trade some memories?"
Her face was still a mask of fury and determination, but I saw Dad begin to shrink. "I'm sorry, Mark. I didn't think. . . ."
"Didn't think what, Dad? Didn't think I'd ever find out? Or if I did, you didn't think I'd give a shit that you did this to me? Which part exactly didn't you think?"
He looked up and fixed me with a sad stare. "I didn't think about any of it, least of all about you. I got caught up in it and barely gave it a second thought."
I turned from him to Mom, who just harrumphed. "Grow up, boys. It's a real world out there. You want something, you'd better be prepared to take it, come hell or high water."
I just looked at her, not believing what I was hearing. Her voice showed no regret and not even a whiff of apology. Instead, she was triumphant, like she was speaking to a couple of naive little kids, explaining to them the ways of the real world.
"Where did this come from?" I asked, amazed. "Where did my Mom go, and when did this flaming bitch take over her body?"
"Don't you dare," she snarled, leaning over the bar toward me.
"Leave," Ferlin thundered from behind them.
Mom froze, and Dad turned in shock.
"Right goddamned now," he bellowed. "Get the hell out of my place and don't come back, y'hear me? Now!"
Mom turned on him with an evil grin and said, "You will not-- "
"I said right fucking now, lady!" he screamed, taking a step toward her.
She looked at him a moment, then turned to me and said, "This isn't over, Mark. Not by a long shot."
With a final glare at Ferlin, who glared right on back, she raised her shoulders and stormed out the door.
Dad looked from Ferlin to me, then back to Ferlin, "I'm really sorry about all this."
Ferlin only glared at him in response.
With a final forlorn look toward me, Dad slumped further and left.
* * * * *
The lunch rush and clean up after was all a daze of jumbled thoughts and mistaken orders. Ferlin didn't say anything. At first, Debbie just bounced and chirped and swooped in and switched plates and drinks the way they were supposed to be. After awhile, she didn't bother letting me pick up my own lunch orders for those sitting at the bar; she just took the orders herself and delivered them herself.
I was worse than useless, I was a hindrance.
But Debbie never said a word. Instead, she just kept right at it cheery as ever, patting me on the back and giggling every now and again.
Just shy of three, the place was empty and Ferlin slumped onto a barstool. "Explains a lot."
"What?" I said, absentmindedly shuffling glasses on the shelf.
"Last night with that woman. Sandy, I presume. Your wife. And pretty much how you've been ever since you've been here."
That piqued my interest a bit. "What d'ya mean, 'How I've been since I got here?'"
"I mean you don't belong here is what I mean. Here. Tending bar. Jesus, Mark, you're smart as a whip, personable. You dress all . . . what did you do for a living?"
He snorted. "Explains the attraction with them women, I guess. Still, you don't really seem the type."
"Too eager to please. Most lawyers, they're super alphas. Don't give a damn about pleasing anyone but themselves. You're the opposite. You only seem to care about pleasing everyone and getting them to like you. Bend over backwards and do things for folks they don't expect you to do just so they'll like you."
"And that's bad?"
"Your mom there was at least partially right about one thing, Mark. You need to look out for you, not for anyone else. You need to be happy without . . . ah, hell, I don't know how to explain it. I guess you just need to quit trying so goddamned hard to please everyone to make 'em like you. They'll either like you or they won't, but it don't mean you need to go kissing their ass up one side and down another, okay?"
"But. . . ." I started, then let it hang there. He was right. And I knew why, too. I was still in Stevie's shadow. Stevie hadn't had to work to make anyone like him, he just assumed they would. Even at that, he'd still had his detractors. Can't please everyone all the time and so on and so forth.
"Still," Ferlin said after a minute, "I think you have a couple of things you need to do."
He hesitated, then looked at me, unsure whether to say it or not. Finally, with a heave that relaxed his barrel frame, he said, "I think you need to talk to your dad there. Not your mother. She's beyond salvation. But your dad, I think he's really hurtin' now, and I think you need to talk to him. If for no other reason than to find out about this little brother you think you have that they seem so intent on keeping you away from."
I nodded. "Yeah, I sorta got that at the end, too. His . . . I don't know. Shame, maybe?"
"Disappointment," Ferlin suggested. "I think both in himself and in what he may think he's become. It was more than just shame, though. He looked whooped when he left here."
"And the second thing? The second thing you think I need to do?"
He pushed himself up from the barstool and placed his palm on the bar top. "You need to have a long, hard talk with your gal."
I sighed, draining so much I thought I'd turn into a molten Mark puddle in the middle of the back bar.
"I heard snatches last night. Tried to stay away, but still heard snatches. And I heard most of what was said here today, too. And I think you got something wrong, or maybe just haven't really thought about it yet and whether or not it makes a difference."
I replayed the conversations in my mind, trying to figure it out but drawing a blank.
"Help me here," I said.
"You told your folks your memories are all lies, Mark, but they aren't. Not all of them, at least. I heard your wife tell you that she devoted the last three years to making you happy as could be. She tried her best--or so she says--to making you love her so much you'd never want to leave. So maybe the memories of the first few years are skewed, but those ones aren't, right? Not the ones at the end."
I hesitated, then nodded.
"Exactly," he went on. "So now I guess you gotta ask yourself whether those memories--the good ones that are real memories and not a bunch of bullshit--whether those memories are real and whether you want to build on them or whether too much has happened to keep goin' on."